Are you a fan of mysteries? Many mysteries are plot first, character second, so maybe you want to try a character-driven one? If you like compelling narrators and twisty plots, let me recommend the Officer Ellie Rush Mystery Series by Naomi Hirahara. So far there are two books in the series – The Murder on Bamboo Lane and The Grave on Grand Avenue – and I absolutely adored both of them. I read them back to back, and they only took me about three days to complete.
The novels take place in modern-day Los Angeles, where Ellie Rush, a twenty-three year old bicycle cop eager to succeed in her career, takes on interesting, complex cases outside of her normal workload. She a sleuth, but one with access, because she has an insider perspective on the law. The series is written in first person, and Ellie’s voice is one of the freshest, most optimistic voices I’ve read in literature in awhile. Ellie is half Japanese, half white, and the many people she interacts with on and off the job represent the breadth and depth of L.A. (and, indeed, America). Hirahara takes care to consider the perspectives of law enforcement, civilians, and where they intersect and diverge when constructing her characters.
While the mysteries are complex and kept me guessing, I enjoyed the parts of the novels where Ellie has romantic encounters, hangs with friends and family, and navigates the office as much as the scenes were Ellie sneaks around on official (or unofficial) police business. The series contains a hint of romance – the perfect amount, honestly, with an interesting dynamic between her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and her new love interest, Detective William Cortez. Her friends are dynamic and lovable, even when they’re criticizing Ellie for her job choice, and her family is thoughtfully portrayed, even if they are also a little surprised with the path she’s taken. Speaking of, Ellie (who is aware of the image of the police, especially a large force like the LAPD), handles her job competently and truly believes in her work. Her aunt Cheryl, the Assistant Chief of the LAPD, was the one who inspired her to become a police officer.
Hirahara creates not only a perfectly convoluted and engrossing mystery in each novel, but a character that I would follow anywhere. While the series is firmly within the mystery genre and marketed that way, the distinct voice and the way the reader experiences Ellie grow as an individual in the crucial years after college give it a New Adult feel. And given that the largest subgenre of New Adult is romance, this is a welcome diversion.
So, for anyone with a thirst for fun, yet relevant literature, give this series a shot. I guarantee that Ellie will make you laugh and cry and feel as she lives her life with a strong sense for justice and dignity always guiding her actions.
Naomi Hirahara is a Southern California based author who has long been actively involved with the Japanese American community. Much of her other work is based in the Mas Arai Mystery Series. If you’re interested in learning more about why she chose Ellie as the protagonist for this new mystery series, here is an interview from the L.A. Times on the subject.
Photo Credit: 1